CLIMATE CHANGE – Should NZ follow the UK example?

28 February 2017

The Chair of the UK’s Independent Committee on Climate Change has told New Zealand’s politicians they should follow the Old Country’s lead.

John Selwyn Gummer, Baron Deben, was ‘on holiday’ in New Zealand last week. He found time to speak at an event organised by the British New Zealand Business Association at AUT University in Auckland. He has also been speaking to politicians of all parties to encourage them to set up an independent climate change committee here.

A career politician from the UK’s Conservative Party, Lord Deben served as Secretary of State for the Environment in John Major’s government. He was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under Margaret Thatcher. He now sits in the House of Lords.

Lord Deben has chaired the UK’s Independent Committee on Climate Change since 2012. The committee is otherwise comprised of distinguished scientists and economists. It was established in 2008 by an Act of Parliament to advise the UK Government on emissions targets. The UK is legally committed to reducing its emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. New Zealand has committed to a 50% reduction on its 1990 levels by 2050.

The Committee reports to Parliament on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change. It can take the UK Government to court if it believes Government policy is likely to breach the emissions commitments.

Lord Deben believes we should install a similar system here. He believes it would improve what he termed New Zealand’s ‘patchy’ response to the issue so far.

In his speech, he compared climate change to a plague.

“In the Black Death one in three of the population died. But they didn’t have any idea why. They called it an act of God. They were not responsible because they didn’t know what was happening. The heart of the climate change problem is that we do know, and we are therefore responsible. It is an absolutely central issue for all of us to face. Because when you know, you cannot avoid the responsibility that knowledge brings.”

He acknowledged that many people were reluctant to think through the full implications of climate change. But people in the richer industrialised nations have a special responsibility to do so.

“What we know is that we have benefitted from the very pollution that puts the world at risk,” he said. “Our riches are built on that. We have to recognise that we are all going to have to pay for the clean-up.”

But far from being a burden, Deben described this future as one of enormous possibility.

“These are not problems. They are huge opportunities. Right across the board the business imperatives are working. The highest proportion of new jobs in the US and Europe are in green technologies. Every new generation that is threatened by a change in the old order produces a new way of creating wealth and employing people.”

The process of setting up a similar cross party committee here might begin by putting together the nation’s carbon budget for 2022-2027. This would help establish the precise ways in which government policy intends to meet the country’s reduction targets.

Lord Deben said: “In New Zealand when anybody talks about climate change everybody immediately talks about dairy farming. But New Zealand has nearly 90% of its power from renewables. It will take until 2030 for the UK to do that. It’s already cost £7.6bn to get started. Business in New Zealand should be making the best of it.”

“We are not excluded just because we are small,” he said. “Our biggest problems can only be solved together. They require everyone, however small, to take their part.”